Monday, February 19, 2018

Coral Made 3: Solo Cthulhu Dark Actual Play

Harvey Mills: 
Drone Pilot
Insight 3
clues: forgot 3 days, Steve is missing, Steve’s sub is missing with all hands lost, Dr Bright did something terrible to Steve in a dream. Others have had terrible dreams. Seismic activity opened up C11, the route down the Rift where the Cyclops was lost.

The too-sweet rot of sick permeated the tiny Drone Control System room. Mills was crammed in between the large bank of controls and the wall behind him. Beside him was the trash can into which he’d vomited. He didn’t notice the smell. 

Mills focused on green screens of the drone cameras, sonar, IR and LIDAR translated to something he could see and understand. Even blurred as the images were, they were crystal clear to Mills.  

His hands flitted across toggles and joysticks. The fleas flexed their limbs and spun up their props. 

Mills had spent months laying down nodules of wired and wireless data transmitters, so the fleas could talk to each other and to him. That mesh network had been rent. Half of his work was gone. No obvious signs of what had happened.  

"In 3 days? 3 days?” Mills murmured.

He set a few drones through automated repairs of the network, and drove the rest around, looking. Headed two towards C11. In the meantime he had one zoom in on a former mesh network node.

(Investigate the mesh network through the drones roll)
M: 3,4

It looked as though something had flowed over the mesh and wiped it away. There were some smoothed-over microbolt remains where it had been attached. They were designed to come out cleanly if pulled, to minimize damage to the area, but the nodes hadn't been pulled. It was as if they’d been shaved off the rocky surface.

A glimmer on one screen drew Mills attention. The fleas falling down C11 had seen a glimmer of thermal emission. Faint, distant. He pushed the drones down, having one lay down new nodes so they could keep up their broadcast.

Down, down. The craggy tunnel became a column going straight down. 30 meters in diameter, with a faint undulation to the rock. Regular. Like it was undergoing a slow stone peristalsis. He was closer to the heat signature. The cameras cut out. 

"No, what? No!" Mills slammed a palm into his desk. "Come back. You were at double bandwidth cap. Double! Come on."

He flipped switches and the central broadcast nodule at the top of the Rift pumped more power into the mesh. 

One screen flickered on. 

The walls were covered in a smooth heat source. It flowed. Mills tried to move the drone closer to it but the prop didn't respond. Rear cam showed it was wrapped in heat. 

In front, a section of the shaft bubbled, one large swell. It unfurled, slowly, like a linen sheets underwater, sinking. Edges drifting lazily, one layer moved out of the way and another drifted upwards. So many layers. Something under them, jerking, rolling. The temperature was rising. Water began to boil around the drone. 

Alarms flashed, but Mills couldn’t hear them, couldn’t look at them. He could only hear water boiling as he numbly hit controls to swim up and away, to flee. The drone was transfixed, like Mills, robotically staring at the diaphanous veils still drifting open before him, at the spherical thing beneath them, swiveling back and forth. The heat came from it, from a circular shape upon it. It roved about and suddenly shot around to point at Mills through the screen. A lance of heat passed over the drone. Everything went white.

Insight check => 6, ++ (to 4)

The speakers crackled around him. The drone that had seen it all - XF12 - its screen faded a hair, and he could just see the outline of a human.

"Steve?" Mills said. It was the long, lean frame. The swept-back short hair.

The figure leaned forward. Closer, closer. Steve's lips. 

"I miss you."

"I... Steve. I miss you too, but this... isn't real. I'm dreaming you."

“You think you’re dreaming me?" The figure grasped the camera, Mills could see bright white teeth snarling. "He is dreaming us! We are His dreams and when He awakens -"

Insight check: 5, ++ (to 5)

Mills jerked awake, still seated in his chair. The screens were dark. He tapped a key and they hummed awake. 


All the drones gone. Static flickered and hissed through speakers. 

The door behind him slid open. 

“Mr… Mills?” A too-familiar voice asked.

He stiffened, hunching over the controls. He flicked a toggle and the screens went black.

“I understand you’re the senior drone operator here. I need someone in-the-flesh to pilot some drones for a, ah, rescue. We might move considerably beyond the mesh network’s range."

“You’re sending people down the Rift? To... rescue the Cyclops?”


Mills licked his dry lips. 

"When, ah, when do we leave?”

Bright smiled. “Tomorrow at 1000. I have some work to do. If you have any relevant telemetry from the drones, please pass it along.”

Mills nodded. Bright walked out.

He turned around and found the recorder chit under the monitor bank, backing up the drone camera feeds. What he'd seen. No, he thought, that was a dream. I fell asleep. He opened a metal desk door, stuck the chit in halfway, and slammed it shut. Again, again. Again. He cracked it against his thumb and moaned. Shards of plastic littered the drawer. 

(Reduction roll: 6. No)

The whole time the blank monitors seemed to stare at him. Like the men and women in line for alcohol from his dream of catering, bored, waiting. Like the great thing in the Rift, rolling, spinning, spearing him with a ray of light. 

(Miso check: Is the central networking nodule still up?
yes: 2
no: 3 )

It’s slagged by whatever killed the drones. It was at the top of the Rift, the lip of that dark mouth. Can’t break it to reduce Insight)

Mills emailed Bright what fragments of drone telemetry remained. She would see where they had last been, that the mesh was down, but no evidence of what he'd seen. Dreamt, he thought. Mills made his way back to Hab 4 in a daze. 

Watkins had supplied Steve and Harvey with bootleg hooch, in plastic bags. High West Whiskey, something Steve picked. Steve had always loved westerns, the machismo, the hats. The lonesome figure striking out. A love that was both ironic and unironic by turns. A few DVDs were on a shelf, and Mills had put one on.

He got listlessly, confoundedly hammered. Numb, he could pretend he wasn't in pain. He lay in their cubby, sealed in, drinking and watching Unforgiven. What Steve had called one of the greatest deconstructions of the genre ever.

"I don't deserve this, to die like this. I was building a house."

"Deserve's got nothing to do with it."

Mills raised a bag of whiskey in a toast. 

Reduce Roll: 4. Reduction

Harvey Mills, Insight 4, incredibly tired and hungover.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Coral Made 2: Cthulhu Dark Solo Play

Harvey Mills: 
Drone Pilot
Insight 3
clues: forgot 3 days, Steve is missing, Steve’s sub is missing with all hands lost, Dr Bright did something terrible to Steve in a dream

Mills found himself standing in the cantina, holding a tray of food. He didn’t remember coming here, doing this. He kept trying to recall the last thing he said to Steve. He couldn’t remember that either. 

His face was wet. He wiped at it.

Watkins and Jens were at a table; they stopped talking when Mills walked up. Watkins, Mills now saw, looked exhausted, bags under her eyes. Jens looked distracted, kept glancing off towards the tiny porthole window in the commissary, his lips pressed together. Like he didn’t know what to say to Mills.

“Any news on the Cyclops 1? Where Ste - where it was headed?” Mills’ said hollowly.

They looked at each other.

(Investigation roll!)
M: 4
(Mills learns everything possible. Jens and Watkins must have privy to higher-up conversations or data taps or something)

“You... don’t recall?” Jens asked.

Mills sat down, shook his head. 

“They were heading down the C11 shaft, one of the larger ones?” Jens screwed up his face as though remembering were an effort. “Your prior drone-mapping had shown it dead-ended, but it looks like that had changed. Something moved, probably during the last seismic event. So, it opened up, and some geologist figured seismic activity wasn’t going to happen again. Cyclops went down, everything was dull, regular. No seismic activity of note. Then we lost the signal.”

“That’s it.”

“Well, the transmission we’ve seen… Cuts a little too cleanly. If it was interference you’d expect a degradation of signal, rather than an abrupt halt. If the ship was hit or damaged suddenly, maybe the data cuts hard, but no evidence of such on the playback. It’s possible,” Jens glanced around, leaned in close to Mills, looking at him cautiously. “It’s possible what’s been released, what we’ve managed to see, was cut off early. Edited.”

“By whom?”

Jens opened his hands in a shrug. Watkins shook her head. “I’m just saying, Sally,” Jens said, defensively. “It’s possible."

“And what, nothing, no one sent down yet?”

“Seems like Bright and Lieutenant Dima are arguing about that. Dima doesn’t want to risk more personnel. ‘We don’t know what we don’t know.’ You know.”

Mills nodded. Jens stared at him and then looked away, clenching his jaw, blinking. Wanting to ask something, not doing it. Watkins leaned in.

“What - what happened to you, Mills?” Watkins asked.

“I don’t know. I’m, I mean,” Fine? Steve is gone, I’m not fucking fine. A tear welled up and Mills wiped it away, another. Jens glanced over at him. Watkins reached out and put a hand over Mills’. “I was asleep, I had… nightmares, about Steve. I don’t… I didn’t think I was in our room for three days. Lost track of time in there.”

“We’ve been having nightmares too.”

“You have,” Jens said, staring past them. “I haven’t had nightmares.”

Watkins ignored him. “It’s been awful. It’s… something to do with Bright. I saw her,” Watkins shook her head, rubbing her face. She had a worn, tiny New Testament clutched in her other hand, Mills saw. She rubbed the pages absently while she talked. 

“I think something terrible is happening here. Maybe it’s what happened to the Argos 1.”

(You always want to imply that the horror happened before.)

Jens sighed wearily.

“You can believe what you want, Jens,” Watkins said, quiet with anger, letting go of Mills to hold the tiny book in both hands. “Something bad is happening here. Something we shouldn’t be around for.”

“Look, Sally, I’m sorry... I’m not trying to go at you. But nightmares... don’t make people disappear,” Jens said.

“Well, Steve is gone,” Mills said, almost whispering. “Disappeared into the Rift.”

Jens and Watkins just looked at him. 

“We’re so sorry, Harvey,” Jens said, his eyes bloodshot, watering. Watkins nodded, biting her lip.

“Me too,” Mills murmured.

Harvey Mills: 
Drone Pilot
Insight 3

clues: forgot 3 days, Steve is missing, Steve’s sub is missing with all hands lost, Dr Bright did something terrible to Steve in a dream. Others have had terrible dreams. Audio and video cut off really fast on the cyclops 1, not clear if it was edited by someone in the Argos II facility or if the vehicle was damaged. C11 shaft used to be closed off, opened by seismic activity is the guess. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Coral Made 1: Cthulhu Dark Solo Play

Harvey Mills stood in crisp black clothes at the outdoor bar, gleaming bottles before and behind. Beyond this parapet of glass, a line of smiling, laughing guests in suits and dresses stood, waiting their turn. They stood beneath a canopy of leaves and outdoor lights, harsh and bright. Just beyond the curve of the line, Mills could see a corner of a freestanding veranda.

Above the sibilance of scattered conversation, a tone rang out, glass sounding hollowly.

The hum of conversation dimmed and died down. The couple before Mills turned smoothly, as though standing on wheeled platforms. Silence fell and still the tone came again, pause, again, pause. Again. Mills' ears began to ring, a lower pitch than the glass, until that sound drowned out everything.

Suddenly it ceased. The line parted just slightly, and Mills saw a familiar face staring out, severe and serene, under the lights of the veranda. 

“The festivities are about to begin,” she intoned to the silent crowd, which emitted a polite applause and abruptly, as one, stopped.

A squeak came from behind Mills; from the building where some of the other catering staff was working. It repeated and repeated, gathering tempo. A wheelchair came into view, rolling on the brick path between ferns, pushed by a caterer Mills couldn’t make out. Speak-squeak, squeak-squeak.

The wheelchair had a figure upon it, bound, hooded, half-familiar. Squeak-squeak. Pulling arms and legs against restraints, fingers clawing at the armrests. Sqeak-sqeak. All this went right past Mills and to the woman in white, who he could now see as the crowd parted.

No, he saw because Mills had left the bar and pushed into people, through them, numbly, as they muttered angrily at his rudeness. The woman smiled triumphantly and yanked the hood from the bound man.

Steve. Mills’ heart raced. Steve, whose firm hands and lean frame had been wrapped around him just before, before... There was blood all over his face. Wounds all over his face, bored in. Mills began to run towards him.

Insight: 1, no change

Mills pushed through the crowd and left a wake of startled yells and inhuman growls. The woman, who looked just like someone, someone Mills knew, but not from this time in his life, not from catering. Dr Bright. From where he knew Steve. From working in Argos II. From under the ocean. She locked eyes with him and smiled. Mills moved towards Steve as she lapped blood from her hand.

“You… came for me,” Steve said weakly.

There was a tunnel of red gore bored into Steve’s chest. It was too deep to see all the way down, and too full of dark blood, which drooled out slowly. Broken chunks of rib and sternum glinted sharp white around the edges. Mills had a towel in his hand and pushed it to the wound, trying to apply pressure, and his hands slipped inside the wet warm wound. Steve gasped.

“Dreaming me,” he muttered.

Insight: 6, ++ to 2

Mills woke up. The coffin sleeper he and Steve shared was cold. The alarm dully stated 6:22 in red, and the sleeping bag they used as a blanket was soaked with sweat and churned about. Steve was gone. Had some 0500 shit he had to be at, Mills remembered. He crawled to the end of the sleeper and cranked open the hatch.

He could smell himself: sour, like piss after too much coffee. He grabbed a towel off the hatch’s built-in rack and padded off to the showers, trying to shake the unreal fear from the dream, trying to remind himself that Steve was ok.

Sally Watkins found him in the commissary, drinking coffee, eating voraciously.

“Micah wants to see you,” she said, looking nervous.

“What, is it that bad, Sally? I've never seen you look spooked.”

Watkins shrugged, not making eye contact. “I got to run and check some atmo scrubbers; just head there real soon, you hear? I don’t want to get it in the neck from her.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll make you look good.”

Watkins snorted, shook her head. “You’re going to go, yeah?”

Mills held out his hands. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”

Micah’s office was as far from general quarters as it could be and still be in Hab 4. It was right next to the access way leading to the military spire, its drone control rooms and moon pools and machine rooms. Her office smelled faintly of the oil and grease running through the veins of the spire, and it was as clean as some of the labs in the science center, from what Mills had heard.

Micah gestured to a chair, so Mills sat, leaned back. “How’s things, boss?”

“OK… How are you, Harvey? How are you holding up?”

“I’m fine, you know. About to head to drone control.”

Micah nodded slowly, looking slightly perturbed. “Yes. We need you to get back to work. It’s been three days since you.. shut yourself in. I understand - I really do.” She held up a hand. “I know we have rules about fraternization on the books, but I’m not interested in enforcing anything like that. I just need you back in the saddle.”

Three days? I went to work yesterday! Yesterday! I… I know I did. And fraternization? What on Earth does Steve have to do with this? He had some piloting to do with some researchers...

The steel decking seemed to sway under Mills feet. The chair he was in seemed to rock. He kept his eyes on Micah, and tried not to react to feeling lost at sea in a swell. His mind raced to come up with some way to ask without tipping her off, getting a trip to the company shrink.

“So is there any, ah, news?” Mills asked slowly.

Micah shook her head. “The Cyclops is still missing, all hands as well. I’m sorry.”

Steve’s boat. Steve was gone.

Insight: 6 ++ to 3

Roll to seem normal!
M: 5
F: 1

“Thanks for, for giving me time to recover.”

Micah nodded.

(Micah didn’t seem to suspect that Mills couldn’t remember the last three days, at all. Mills’ heart raced, he was sweating. He felt numb all over.)

“If that’s all, I’ll let you return to your work. You’re cleared through to the spire.” Micah was already looking through a stack of papers, work requisitions from the military or the scientists.

“Thanks Micah.”

It felt like groveling. The words tasted like ash in Mills' mouth. Thanking her. For 3 days in a fugue, while Steve was probably dead or dying. And now back to work like everything was fine. Mills numbly stood and tried to cry quietly as he left the room. If Micah noticed she didn't say anything.

Harvey Mills:
Drone Pilot
Insight 3
clues: forgot 3 days, Steve is missing, Steve’s sub is missing with all hands lost, Dr Bright did something terrible to Steve in a dream

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Creeping Fruticose 6

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 5

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 4

New clues:

  • Bar doesn’t trust Terra, thinks that Terra is uncompromised by the lichen
  • They have civvie MOPP gear, a sprayer, and concentrated hydrogen peroxide
  • Terra has a sample of the lichen

Bar finds an unoccupied research lab (3,1) several floors up and they toss their bags in a corner. Terra grips her apple as though it were the last handhold over an abyss.

She slices it up and slices the slices. She smears highlighting chemicals onto a slide and smears a cutting against that. The microscope lights purr faintly as she zooms in, looking for cellular structure.

T: 2, 5

It has no cellular structure. Nothing. There’s bits that look like crystallization and bits that seem to… flow, to pump, to move. But no cells. It’s like zooming into a hunk of metal, though one with some highly differentiated parts.

As she watches the structure expands outwards. Growing with no visible means of such. Something coming into place out of nothing.

“Flatland,” she murmurs. “We only see a little bit of the whole, the bits we are capable of seeing."

Terra tastes bile.

“Well, it’s not lichen,” she calls to Bar. She looks up.

Bar is gone. His bag with the biological agents suit is gone.

Terra sighs. She has one last question to answer - will the hydrogen peroxide do anything to the lichen?

Yes: 2
No: 6

(The dice gods favor the mythos AS THEY MUST)

The solution does nothing. Terra shrugs. She shoves the microscope and apple into a trashcan, hearing metal and plastic crack. She pours in a bottle of methanol and lights a match.

Reduction Roll => 4! Reduced to 4 Insight.

Smoke rushes up; the apple sizzles, the fruticose blackens.

“Well, that works.” Terra murmurs, staring into the blue-tinged flames.

She leaves. Behind her, the fire smoke fills with particulate matter. Little flakes drift up and out like a grey snow.

Eventually the fire alarm sounds.


“OK, OK, OK. Bob had talked about using fire in his note. Before… they got him. Just need to get to a 7/11…”

Bar drives frantically, slamming on the gas and the brake. Night has fallen and the town is unusually sedate for a Thursday.

Can he get enough supplies to do some damage?

B: 2
F: 5

Reroll with Insight!

B: 6
Insight: 3
Fail: 5

Insight check: 2, no change

Bar gathers up jerry cans from several gas stations, filling them. He buys cleaning rags and a Bic lighter. He finds himself staring at the beer in the gas station. He shakes his head as though coming back to the moment and leaves. His car is loaded down with gasoline and stinks of it. He rolls down his windows and drives back to campus.

Now all I need is campus police to come along, thought Bar. Find a brown beardy guy who got kicked out of this school, with a chemical protection suit and a shit-ton of gasoline. I’m sure that would go over well.

I’ll just tell them the biology department is full of pod people! Of course!

His laughter is deep and genuine. He laughs until he cried, until he can barely see, just hitting the brakes in time to avoid a concrete embankment.

He parks and heads to one of the back doors of the building. Looking around, he carefully pulls out a cat’s paw tool and lock picks.

B: 4, 6
Insight check: 4, no change

The itch of a memory half-forgotten distracts him, looking at the flat lock surface, the cleft of the keyhole, empty expressionless - Bar grits his teeth and ignores the feeling. The deadbolt moves and the door is open. He tapes over the deadbolt and wedges the door with his cat’s paw tool.

He is walking back and looks up. Lance Gleason stares at him from the doorway. Bar drops the jerry cans and steps back, shocked. Gleason flees into the building.

“Fuck!” Bar pants. He grabs the jerry cans and moves in, nylon bag swinging over his shoulder.

Insight check: 2, no change

The department’s air is full of tiny flakes which waft gently through the air. Bar stops before the threshold and begins to put on the hazmat suit.


Her office light was on. Terra had meant to go straight to the basement, but her office light was on. The lights were triggered by motion sensors - it was a pain, if you were writing, every 15 minutes you had to flail about to keep them on.

Someone was in her office.

She paused outside the biology building. The air is full of grey flakes, like ash. Edged in a metallic blue.

“I should put on my suit, I suppose,” Terra said, thinking of what she ingested before.

Will she?
T: 6
No: 4
Insight: 4

She dons the suit and gas mask. Her view warps around the edges slightly. She breathes and the sound of it, and of rubber valves fluttering, fills the tight space around her face.

She goes inside, goes up to the third floor.

The hallway is dim, fluorescents only on at irregular intervals. One side is interspersed with doors, leading to offices or small classrooms. The other is a floor-to-ceiling window, all along the hall. Beyond it, dimly visible through the reflected hallway lights, Terra sees a few patches of light from streetlamps in the North campus. Otherwise the school is a dim outline, a vague suggestion.

The lichen floats through the air serenely, unaffected by the overhead air vents.

She rounds the corner. Her door is slightly ajar. Bright light from her office shines into the dim corridor.

She tries to sneak in, but the suit rubs against itself with every step, swishing.

Bob looks up as she comes in. His bald pate shines under the mirror as though shellacked. Before him is a bottle of wine, a corkscrew, and three glasses.

Insight: 5 ++

He looks up at her and smiles warmly. He stands up.

“Terra. I know this is a shock, but it’s alright. Is, ah, Babar with you?”

Terra stares at him. “You can’t be you. You can’t be.”

Bob smiles and points to the seat in front of her desk. “Please, I can explain.”

Terra stands frozen. Bob shrugs.

“Well, you see.” He threads the corkscrew into the wine bottle. “I thought the lichen was, you know.” He smiles. “Some kind of monster.” Twist. “Out to destroy us all.” Twist. “I had no idea, no idea… It wanted to partner with us, Terra. Save us.”

He smoothly pulls the cork from the bottle, pours himself a small measure, another for her.

“It helped me. It fixed me. I was an alcoholic, before. But I’m not an addict any more.” He takes a small, measured sip. “I’m better. But I’m still me.”

“I saw.. your body.”

“Well, yes. The lichen absorbed my memories and consciousness through that hole, you know, in my skull. A brain is hard to duplicate precisely without… touch. A given body’s facsimile is easier to manufacture.”


“Listen, Terra, I know this is a great deal to absorb. But soon things are going to change here. I’ll change. And I want you to be able to change with me, you know? To join in.”

His eyes sparkle as he gazes at her. Terra tastes bile in her mouth.

“Like Lance? Like Ben? Blank-faced, dead-eyed?”

Bob waved dismissively, leaning back. “Lance and Ben are still walking around in the flesh. It made some drones to try to herd you here, that’s all. Their visages, not them. They’re fine. I mean, idiots, but they’re fine.”

A door opens behind her. Someone in a suit walks in, an elderly man, pallid and tall. Dr. Gingery.

He smiles blandly, but then, Terra thought, he always did.

“It’s almost time,” he says.

The lichen in the air reverses as though on tracks, begins to move forward again, lurching, whirling faster and faster. It thrums against Terra’s mask, blinding her, shakes the flourescents until one shatters and another is blinking. A gale of grey and blue screams into the room. In between flashes of light she sees that Bob and Gingery are still. She looks closer.

They are writhing piles of fruticose curls, unwinding from human shapes to masses. What was Bob creeps towards her; Gingery’s arcs between the door frame, trying to trap her. She hears Bob’s voice:

“We will have you join us Terra. You know why. You belong to it. Try to remember.”

Insight: 1

Terra tries to break through all this and flee the room.

T: 5
F: 1

She runs and dives through the fruticose and it claws at her, it pulls at her mask, and she slams a hand on it to keep it in place. She tumbles out of the room and begins to run.

The ashy flakes in the air are dancing, faster, slapping into the exterior window and cracking it, tapping fluorescent lights and smashing them.


Footprints in the lichen. Two sets. Bar’s breathing fogs the mask. The suit crinkles and folds around him. The jerry cans in his nylon bag pull and twist the strap.

Lichen drifts through the air, covers the floor and walls of the basement in a metallic blue flakes, peeling away like dead skin.

Thicker and thicker. The footprints, once cleaner spots on the tile floor, are now concentrated cracks amidst layered sheets. Coils of the stuff have crawled from a doorway down the hall.

Has Bar managed to sneak in somehow, have Lance and Ben lost him?

B: 5, 1
Fail: 4

(So yes, he’s actually managed to creep in.)

He keeps slowly twisting to look behind him, convinced they’ll be there, staring. The lichen drifts serenely in empty halls.

“I don’t have enough gas to just burn down the building… And everything in here is fucked.” Bar murmurs to himself. “They must have some kind of gas main in here, for the labs that use burners. If I can light that off…” He changes course.

Searching for the gas main:
B: 4
Fail: 5

(The failure involves getting caught or herded by the drones)

Reroll with insight!
B: 6
Insight: 2
Fail: 2

Insight check: 5 ++

(Bar finds the gas main, BUT the lichen starts freaking out. Terra is upstairs and It’s Time and all that.)

The lichen in the air twitches and begins to quicken. Bar pries open a panel as it rushes around him. He sees the caked layers of lichen on the floor moving around, growing, shifting into and away from each other like tiny tectonic plates. The airborne flakes whirl at him and for a moment Bar sees them transported through him, in him, growing out, his skin covered in a patina of the stuff…

“Anytime it wants. You can finish me whenever you want!” he screams into the maelstrom, bending a pipe with his cat’s paw. “Come on!”

Gas seeps out of a pipe as he cracks it. Bar opens a jerry can, pouring gasoline as he backs away into the gale.

B: 4
F: 2

He backs out a decent way. He runs out of gasoline with the doorway in sight. He pulls the lighter from the nylon back, lights the gasoline on the ground. The flame catches and races down the hallway. He looks up, a hard grin on his face, watching the flame dance.

Before him, only ten feet away or so, are Ben and Lance. The fire burns between them and past. They have eyes only for Bar.

He runs.

B: 2, 5
F: 4

Bar sprints, fighting the mask for air. He makes the doorway and peers back over the threshold.

Lance has stopped there like before. He holds up a hand and Bar is lifted off his feet as the gas main explodes.


Terra is outside when the explosion hits. The building shakes and part of the roof fires off into the air, raining debris down. She’s thrown to the ground, her mask cracking.

She lays there for a time, ringing in her ears, as debris splatters the lawn. Eventually the sounds die down. She slowly picks herself up.

The sky is full of lichen. Rancid flakes of it fall from the sky, others soar upwards, caught in a thermal over the burning center of the biology building.

“We didn’t kill it,” she murmurs. “We’ve just helped spread it. God…”

One by one, the stars are obscured.

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 5

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 5

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Creeping Fruticose 5

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 5

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 4


  • Bob’s notes detail an Alaska expedition which uncovered a voracious and unknown lichen, which seemed clumped around a curiously eroded stump of wood. (1)
  • One of the people on the trip, in the 80s, has the same face as Terra Knafferly, Bob’s niece. (1)
  • Bob’s suicide note spoke of a gate and various incoherent things. (2)
  • Adina Haun mentioned Bob’s expedition, which otherwise seems scrubbed away. She’s in the Anthropology department. (3)
  • materials storage moved to biology department (4)
  • Dr. Troy Gingery led this movement and a subsequent dangerous chemical cleanup that wasn’t really announced (4)
  • Dr. Troy Gingery was a rival of Bob’s. (4)
  • Dr Lance Gleason and Dr Ben Samuels have duplicates on campus who chased Terra and Bar (4)

(Their plan: Teaching Hospital for supplies, then biology department)
(I’m rolling for Terra getting gear, as always, it's Human and Profession d6s in that order)
T: 1, 1

“So you’re saying you can’t requisition anything for me?” Terra said.

“We have some N95 respirators…”

Terra glared at her hospital contact, Shelly Millard, hands clenching. Her face begins to twitch hideously, in anger or fear, Millard can't tell.

Reroll with insight: 1, 6
Insight: 5
Extra insight check! : 2 (Since I re-rolled with insight and got a 6 for Terra’s profession, I check insight) (I think I mistakenly bumped up her Insight from 4 to 5 here because the Insight die in the re-roll was a 5. EH)

Shelly crumbled under Terra’s glare. The biologist never blinked, even as her face spasmed.

“I’ll... see what I can do, Terra.”

Terra remembered something as Shelly turned around. “I also need a pump-sprayer and concentrated hydrogen peroxide for it.”

"Great!” Shelly called out as she left.

She left. Terra turned to Bar, told him to wait at the counter, and hurried off to a bathroom. Inside, she pulled the photo from her uncle's notes. The writhing pattern written in wood, and the woman.

“Not my face, not my face”

She murmured, over and over, as she ripped the photograph up and flushed it away.

Insight Reduce Roll: 1! Terra loses Insight.

The fragments swirl and are gone, and Terra feels that the other woman must be as well. Somehow.

She comes back as Shelly carried out a heavy black duffel bag and plopped it on the pharmacy counter.

“Will that be all?” she asked drolly.

“Thank you Shelly. Really. Thank you.” Terra said, leaning in. Shelly looked almost as scared of the genuineness in Terra’s voice as she had at her twitching intensity.

Outside, Bar glanced over at Terra.

“So now what?”

“I think this is what was used, more or less, to clean out… Something. Something that happened to the lichen stored under the bio department, if that’s what’s down there.”

“It couldn’t have worked that well, if we’re where we’re at now.”

Terra shrugged.

“You want to walk, go ahead. But I think we both owe it to Bob - Bob’s memory - to go down there and try.”

(roll to avoid searching lichen duplicates? not yet!)

It’s getting into late afternoon. The two head to the hospital cafeteria and eat. Bar searches through his pockets.


“Nothing. Just my lucky coin.”

“Your name is Bar and you're in AA?”

Bar shrugged. “It’s short for Babar. I just got tired of that kid’s book getting brought up. Anyway, it’s how I met Bob."

“I didn’t know he was in there.”

“Yeah, he was a great guy. Really friendly.”

“Bob never, well. I think he must’ve saved that side for the meetings, then.”

Bar looked at her quizzically.

“He was just… very driven. Very driven. Very intense. I guess it was just how he dealt with knowing all this, knowing it and never saying anything, knowing and hoping no one else ever would.”

“What do you think we’ll find in the biology department?”

“I’ve worked there for 20 years. It’s not a sinister place. But…”


“I guess I don’t really know it. If Ben and Lance are going to come and chase after us, all…”

They both thought of those empty, expressionless faces. It hadn’t looked like the two were breathing hard as they came on. They looked untroubled, almost serene. Terra had never seen either of them look so relaxed.

Terra finished her soup, chews on her grilled cheese. Puts it down slowly.

There’s fruticose edging out under the cheese. Scraped by her teeth. She’s already swallowed, the bite traveling into a deep, growing emptiness inside her, a hole full of bile and fear. Bar takes a bite of apple, pauses. Slams his hand on the table as he leans to the side, vomits.

A trail of lichen stretches from the core of his apple.

T: 6, ++. Good thing she destroyed some evidence before this!
B: 2

Terra feels vertigo. She sits wondering if she can detect the lichen inside of her. If a bite of it will survive her stomach acid.

“No reason to think I’ll be alright from this,” she murmurs.

Bar retches again. She reaches out and grips his hand. He pants and looks up to her.

“We need to get to a lab,” she says.

"Did you swallow any? I think I got all that back up..." Bar says, coughing.

"I'm fine. I think I stopped just short of it. Listen, we need to get to a lab... This is the first sample of this rat bastard, we need to find out what it is."

(Does Bar believe this? Bar: 2, Terra: 1, so, nope.)


The kitchen staff is gone. The off-hours cafeteria is empty save for the two of them.

“I want to check back there.”

Bar hops the counter and checks the back area, kitchen and dishwashing nook. No one is around. A large steel vat of water boils.

“Bar?” Terra calls out.

“They’re gone,” he says to himself.

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 5

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 4

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Creeping Fruticose 4

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 3

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 3


  • Bob’s notes detail an Alaska expedition which uncovered a voracious and unknown lichen, which seemed clumped around a curiously eroded stump of wood. (1)
  • One of the people on the trip, in the 80s, has the same face as Terra Knafferly, Bob’s niece. (1)
  • Bob’s suicide note spoke of a gate and various incoherent things. (2)
  • Adina Haun mentioned Bob’s expedition, which otherwise seems scrubbed away. She’s in the Anthropology department. (3)

Terra heads to Grace’s office, piles of folios to sort and catalogue on one desk, Grace almost buried amidst it all. They talk about material storage from old scientific trips.

Investigate: 3, 5

(Everything and something more.)

Storage was moved from the library basement back to respective departments, in the late 90s. It was actually something Bob Knafferly strenuously fought against. The effort had been led by Dr. Troy Gingery, now the head of the Biology department. Grace had figured Bob’s standing had been greatly diminished by Gingery’s ascendence.

Terra remembered some Sunday during winter break where the biology department was closed for a deep cleaning… Gingery had been there, directing workers, who donned chemical suits and respirators. She hadn’t thought much of it as she had been fighting tooth-and-nail for a grant at the time.

As she left Grace’s office, she ran into Dr. Samuels, one of the professors she’d ducked earlier, a biologist roughly her age and a million times more valued by the department. He glared at Terra, who bared her teeth.

“You forget to bring Lance back with you, Ben?” she asked.

His countenance flickered with confusion, some barbed quip caught in his teeth. He coughed as though clearing it.

“I just got here, Knafferly. Ah, excuse me.”

He brushed past her, then turned back at the threshold, smiling sharply.

“We don’t all have to struggle morning and night to make our way, you know.”

He closed the door. Terra fumed on top of the confusion - Samuels and Lance Gleason were both in the library earlier. She had walked right past them.

Terra insight: 6 +++

Terra pales. Blank expressionless faces stare at her in her memory, stare past her. Two bland men striding forth in perfect lockstep. As though connected. As though built together, conjoined, despite the distance between them. She rushes to the elevator, not noticing the rust flake with its branching nub stretching out...

“He wasn’t lying.” Terra said to Bar, who jumped in his seat.

“Fuck! Terra, you startled -“

“We walked past Ben and Lance on the way in, two professors from my department…”


“Ben hadn’t been in before I saw him. He had just arrived, as in, after us. But he was here before as well.”

“He’s just lying to you, Terra. You know how these Chosen Ones are.”

Does Bar believe this, really?
Bar: 6
Fail: 3

He does but he still gets an Insight Roll! => 4, ++

Bar is rubbing a bronze coin between thumb and forefinger. He begins sweating.

“He’s lying…” Bar repeats, quietly. “Lying. Just rust.”

Lies pile up, Bar thinks. You think they’re protection, but all you’ve really done is dug a grave and called the earth around you a wall. We’ve been lying to ourselves all the time, all this time. This thing has been happening for a long time. But we don’t look, we can’t. 1840s, that archeology class I took, read about some prospector out in Alaska who was haunted by someone with the same face as his dead wife. He died in a sanitarium. Walls closed in on him and became a grave...


He shakes his head. The one-year coin skitters onto the keyboard and he snatches at it.

“Did you find her schedule?”

Bar investigate roll: 6.
Insight check! 4, nothing.

“I did… but... Haun is a strange one, you know? Used to be very active on social media, posting all the time, her family, kids, activism, that sort of thing… In the last six months it’s all dropped off.”

“She might be busy.”

“Not here. She teaches one class and it looks like some of her research efforts have stalled. Also, this. She made one post in the last six months. A week ago.”


“Not exactly her normal style,” Bar says, scrolling through older, erudite posts.

Two people walk in from the far end of the computer lab.

It’s Ben and Lance again, together. Their expressions are flat. They pan their heads around the room slowly. They don’t speak to each other but move in sync.

“We should go,” Terra whispers, ducking below the cubicle fabric wall before them.


Terra grabbed Bar’s shoulder and dragged him behind her, low. His one-year coin fell out of his hand and rolled off into the lab.

Behind them, soft footfalls on the carpet. Bar glances back and sees Dr. Lance Gleason sprinting towards them. Face placid as if he was sleeping, but for open eyes.

“Book it!” Bar pulls his arm from Terra’s grasp and they run, panting, faces contorted with fear.

Terra (using the library and campus as cover / obstacles): 3, 5
Bar: 3, 1
Fail: 1

They run out of the library’s lab, through the ID check as someone exclaims and curses, but they are gone, through doors and into the lawn and turning. The footfalls follow for a while but are diminished. Eventually the two are behind the Philosophy department, it’s Corinthian columnade screening them from view as they hunker in a deep doorway.

“What the fuck was that? Those are professors you know?” Bar panted.

“I’m not sure.”

Terra: 5, no change
Bar: 4, no change

“Aren’t you?"

“Not my face, not my face,” she mutters to herself.


She shakes her head.

“We should head to the biology department. But first I need to pick up some supplies in the teaching hospital.”

“Are those two going to be… looking for us?”

Terra shakes her head.

“Why don’t you ask them, Bar? How would I know?”

She strides off. Bar looks after her for a moment, then jogs to catch up.

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 5

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 4

New clues

  • materials storage moved to biology department
  • Dr. Troy Gingery led this movement and a subsequent dangerous chemical cleanup that wasn’t really announced
  • Dr. Troy Gingery was a rival of Bob’s.
  • Dr Lance Gleason and Dr Ben Samuels have duplicates on campus

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Creeping Fruticose 3

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 3

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 3

The library, for all its height and sprawling stone heft, has low ceilings, the tiles of which often show signs of old water damage. It is musty, slightly humid, cramped.

A pair of prim professors walked out as Knafferly and Alvi walk up the stone steps - do the professors notice the two?

Terra: 5
Bar: 3
Fail: 2

Terra looks away casually, and Bar is walking just behind her enough they don’t notice. The professors stare placidly ahead as they walk past, not talking.

“Who were those two, Terra? That you were, hm, avoiding?” Bar asked, sliding his library card through the turnstile’s reader.

“Avoid? They’re just some professors in my department. I wasn’t trying to avoid them” Terra said.

“Sure. ‘Cause, I thought you were, so, I tried to look inconspicuous.”

“Great, Bar.” Terra said flatly.

They head up to the biology research depository, the ninth floor. The carpet by the elevators is damp, the ceiling-mounted sprinkler having leaked again.

“Alright. Most of Bob’s work is over here,” Terra gestured. “You start there, I want to see about any other expeditions out this way. It’s a pretty unique location. I’m surprised Bob never spoke of it.”

Terra: 5, 1
Bar: 1

Bar doesn’t find much about Bob’s expedition to Alaska, other than an oblique footnote in a current professor’s publication he skimmed by mistake. (Adina Haun, anthropologist.)

(Terra discovered everything and something extra - legend, etc)

There were prior expeditions, in 1939 and in 1898, through the University. Both had ended dreadfully for the academics - no findings of serious note, other than a drawing of a shape familiar to Terra - the stump, eroded into the form Bob documented. A stump of wood preserved for 100 years.

Terra also saw footnotes that led to the autobiography of an Inuit trapper, using the pen name Jack Anawak, who grew up in the region. He, with his brothers, journeyed through the expedition site, practicing his trade, but reported that the flesh of beasts in the area was wrong, somehow - that it did not provide any sustenance. They was eventually tracked and hunted by a man with his own face, who the group barely escaped.

Terra reports on the prior expeditions and tries to keep the… face-stealing nature of this research from Bar. Can she?

Yes: 2
No: 3

The book is underneath everything else, a bookmark sticking out.

“What’s this?”

“Oh, a red herring, you know…”

Bar flips it open to the marked page, eyes flickering back and forth hungrily.

“A stolen face? Seems a theme.” He doesn’t look at Terra.

She shakes her head.

“That wasn’t… my face. She just looks similar. Not the same.”


Terra stares at Bar, who keeps reading the notes. “Listen,” she says, "I’ll go talk to Grace, the head librarian here, about materials storage under the library. Why don’t you snag Dr. Haun’s schedule from the computer lab downstairs?”

Bar nods and gets up.

He heads to the elevator. A single curved leaf of rust is in the carpet in the middle of the carpeted landing. No metal above, no metal around that’s rusted, despite the wet.

Bar insight: 1. No change!

“It’s nothing,” he thinks as the elevator dings. Someone gets out, but Bar is focused on the floor, then jerks his gaze away and heads inside.

A fruticose branch now juts from the flake, unseen.

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 3

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 3


  • Bob’s notes detail an Alaska expedition which uncovered a voracious and unknown lichen, which seemed clumped around a curiously eroded stump of wood. (1)
  • One of the people on the trip, in the 80s, has the same face as Terra Knafferly, Bob’s niece. (1)
  • Bob’s suicide note spoke of a gate and various incoherent things. (2)
  • Adina Haun mentioned Bob’s expedition, which otherwise seems scrubbed away. She’s in the Anthropology department. (3)
  • More face-stealing, now from the 1800s (3) and evidence that the lichen-stump Bob found has been around (but not transportable) for a long time (3)